Donner Party Mountain Runners | Be a savvy trail traveler
November 7, 2014
The last several weeks have offered up some incredible trail-running conditions here in the Truckee-Tahoe region.
Few crowds mean you will often get even popular trails all to yourself. (Hello, Judah Loop!) Cooler temperatures mean you can run farther without the need to carry water. And, fluctuating weather systems mean you are equally likely to be dazzled by late fall colors as by ice-covered trees and fresh snow.
While I would deem these conditions to be perfect, it is also a great time of year to review some safety principles for being out on the trails.
Know where you're going
This doesn't mean you should only follow routes that you have traveled before. If you're headed down an unknown trail, you simply need to do your research.
Find out the mileage and what type of terrain you'll be traveling. Be sure to carry a map. Check the conditions as much as possible before you head out, including the weather forecast.
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Some trails are in perfect shape this time of year, while others are already buried under snow. Although oftentimes travel over snowy terrain is still possible (and even enjoyable), it is typically slower, and can present navigational challenges.
An area that you know like the back of your hand in summer can be completely foreign territory under a mere four inches of snow. Social media is a very effective way to learn about current conditions on local trails.
One final tip about your route: Be sure to let someone at home know your plans. This is extremely important in the event that you get lost or need help.
Bring a friend
Depending on where you're headed, the conditions and the forecast, sometimes running with a friend can provide an important safety benefit.
If you plan to run farther than usual on unknown terrain, having one or more friends can be helpful in the event that something goes wrong, like an injury.
Moving over challenging terrain is often made more fun with good company, as well.
Bring the right gear
First and foremost, this means dressing appropriately for the weather. It feels very much like tights, jacket, hat and gloves weather already.
Even on those days that start out balmy, it's a good idea to bring one or more extra layers if you're going to be out for more than an hour or so.
Some other items to consider, depending on your distance — water bottle, snacks, phone, GPS and a map.
Regarding music, I personally am not a fan of it on the trail for a few reasons, not the least of which is that your safety is compromised when you can't hear what's going on around you. If you can't live without your iPod, please follow the "one ear-bud only" rule.
Know and follow the local regulations
Some areas, like Desolation Wilderness, require you to register at the trailhead and carry a permit before entering.
No matter where you run, you need to practice "leave no trace" principles. That's more of an ethical tip than a safety tip, but important nonetheless. Plus, avoiding practices that attract wildlife will certainly help everyone's safety in the long run.
Whether you're headed to the Emigrant Trail, or still trying to squeeze those last days out of an already snowy high country, keeping safety in mind will ensure that everyone's wilderness experience is as fun as possible.
— Author Gretchen Brugman writes on behalf of the Donner Party Mountain Runners, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to informing and inspiring mountain runners in the Truckee-Tahoe area. More information can be found on their site, http://www.donnerpartymountainrunners.com.
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